Lumbering along Swine Street on a warm Monday evening in Cow Springs, Arizona, Arnold Keli’i is on his way to the Community Center from work. It’s Wednesday night, which means that it’s Wizard Night. This is the day of the week when he and his assistant, Hubert Reynolds, sneak into the props closet at the town theatre to dress up as wizards and do wizard things, such as battling trading cards.
It’s 7:30 by the time Arnold gets out of his job, where he is in charge of taking clips from movies and television shows and turning them into promotional advertisements. It’s a cool job, except for when it requires of him to watch the really bad shows geared towards teenage audiences. He also doesn’t talk much with any coworkers besides Hubert, because they’re all pretty stereotypical corporate douches. Sometimes Arnold will take a trip to the water cooler and garner a few derogatory nicknames referencing his weight, ranging from “Arn Door” to “Arnivore.” They also constantly make Chinese jokes directed towards him, even though every time they do so he reminds them that he is Hawaiian, which makes the jokes all the more offensive.
Sometimes Arnold gets tired of his work, so Wizard Night is a good way to relieve his stress, and simply delve into a world of spell-casting and alchemy — skills that will undoubtedly come in handy on December 21st when he and Hubert are forced to hide in a bomb shelter for the end of the world, and convert raw materials into food and gold to trade with the aliens. Today, though, Arnold is distracted from his route when he catches sight of a caterpillar stuck under a rock.
“Aw, let me help you little guy!” he says as he pronates himself onto the ground, with jelly rolls jiggling as his belly, only now partially covered by his shirt, slaps the poor pavement. “Wow, you’re a big one, aren’t you? I’m a huge fan of caterpillars. I’ve always thought it’d be useful to have all of those feet, you know, for balancing purposes. Actually, my grandmother had a bunch of fee–….” Suddenly Arnold feels a kick in his side.
“Ow!” yells the man who just tripped over Arnold’s supine body. “Damn it, I broke my leg!”
“Oh my goodness, sir, are you okay?” Arnold slowly picks himself up onto his knees just as he hears police sirens approaching.
“Put your hands up above your head!” a police officer behind Arnold yells through a loudspeaker.
Arnold complies, scared.
“No, no, not the fat one. The guy in the black who just stole this elderly woman’s purse.”
Arnold lets out a sigh of relief.
“Yes, officer,” a frail old lady standing beside the policeman said with a shake in her voice. “That’s the man who stole my purse and ran off!”
As the thief who just tripped over Arnold is put into handcuffs, before Arnold is even able to get up onto his feet, he is swarmed by a group of cameras and people with suits and microphones. They begin to bombard him with questions, with each individual loudly trying to be heard over the others.
“Excuse me, sir, what is your name?” one reporter asks.
Another reporter aggressively pushes his microphone to the front of the pack. “Yes, Arnold, how did you know that the man you tackled was a thief?”
“Oh what a modest man,” the reporter replies. “Were you scared at any point as you beat down the armed criminal?”
“He was armed?!”
“What drove you to bring justice to this notorious offender?”
“What? I’m sorry, I have to go.” So Arnold pushes his way out of the crowd and hurries home, altogether forgetting to meet Hubert at the Community Center.
As soon as Arnold gets home he strips to his underwear, climbs into bed, and cuddles with his cat, Yarnold. The cat was originally going to be named Cat Skywalker, but was eventually called Yarnold due to its affinity for yarn, mixed with how funny Arnold thought having his cat’s name rhyme with his would be. Yarnold is a very small cat for his age, not a whole lot bigger than his owner’s hand. Although his teeny body makes him one of the cutest little kitties in Cow Springs, every now and then it becomes a handicap, especially when Arnold bellyflops onto bed at night and crushes tiny Yarnold under his gargantuan torso.
Tonight Arnold is having trouble sleeping. The mix of a crazy night of fighting crime, the week-old churros in his belly, and Yarnold constantly walking on his face are culminating in an uncomfortable rest. Regardless, he is content with a carton of pistachio ice cream in hand despite his sick stomach, and Spongebob Squarepants re-runs on television. The night went on in this manner, until eventually the phone rings.
“More like Arnold Badfriendinator if you ask me!”
Arnold immediately recognizes the voice on the other end of the line as that of his best friend, Hubert. “Hubert I totally forgot I swear! I got caught up in something, I’m sorry.”
“Oh really? What could have possibly happened that is more important than Wizard Night?”
“I caught a criminal! There’s an article about me in the online newspaper. I’m trending on Twitter!”
There was a pause in the conversation as Hubert looked online for the article and Arnold continued to watch television.
“You drop-kicked a terrorist?” Hubert was both skeptical, and excited to know a celebrity.
“I think so! Or something along those lines….”
“Well, I guess that deserves an awesome pass for this time, but don’t ditch me again, you hear me? Hey…hey why are you laughing at what I’m saying? Arnold Keli’i, stop laughing at me!”
“Ha ha ha, I’m sorry Hubert it’s not you. I’m watching the Spongebob episode where Spongebob and Patrick sell chocolate.”
“Ah, classic episode. Anyways, don’t forget to come to my screening of ‘3 Men and a Baby’ on Saturday. You said you’d come, so don’t plan on saving the world again any time soon.”
“Got it Hubes, see you later.”
The next day Arnold and Yarnold take a walk down Old Street. These walks usually consist of a trip to the donut shop for Arnold, while Yarnold lays on his owner’s shoulder because he is too small to walk on the street. It was a pretty normal day, but just as they are approaching Mr. Jelly’s Donut Shoppe, Yarnold claws at Arnold’s shoulder, and jumps onto the ground.
“Bad kitty! What do you want?”
Yarnold takes a few steps forward and looks back at Arnold. Arnold sees what’s ahead — he perceives about half a block up a crowd of people surrounding a man who is washing windows. Intrigued, he grabs Yarnold, throws him over his shoulder fireman style and approaches the crowd. Everyone in the crowd seems worried about something. Arnold and Yarnold make their way to the front of the crowd, and just then Arnold realizes the issue: the window washer is standing on a window sill instead of a platform, seemingly holding on for his life!
Arnold is worried for the man. “Excuse me, sir, why are you washing windows without a platform to stand on?”
“I’m gonna jump! I’m gonna do it!” the man anxiously replies, tearing up.
“Why would you jump? You could die! You’re three stories up! Don’t jump, sir, I’m sure there is help on its way.”
“What’s the point? Nothing makes me happy anymore.”
At this point Arnold doesn’t understand at all why the window washer is being so emotional, or why he doesn’t just climb into the window he is standing in front of, but Arnold always enjoys making a new friend, so he decides to make more conversation.
“I know how you feel, Mr. Window Washer. Sometimes I feel sad because I don’t have lots of friends, or because I’m fat. But I never let it get to me!”
“Really?” The man in the window stops crying. “What gets you through it all?”
“Yep. I just think of kitties and stop being sad.”
“You know what?” The man in the window breaks a smile amidst his wet, red face. “Kitties are cute, aren’t they? Why would I want to kill myself when there are such pleasures to be found in the world?”
“You wanted to WHAT?!” Arnold finally realizes that the man in the window wasn’t doing maintenance, but instead was planning to commit suicide!
“Thank you, sir. You have made me understand that life is worth living. I’m going to get down from here now!” Suddenly the whole crowd around Arnold and Yarnold starts cheering. A mere few seconds afterwards, police cars and the news reporters from yesterday appear on Old Street.
“Arnold! Arnold Keli’i, the man who shot the terrorist yesterday!” one reporter with a familiar voice yells, approaching Arnold. Arnold turns around to see the same mob of reporters from last night. At this point every one of them is either shouting his name at him, or shouting out a question.
“Arnold! Arnold! How do you keep finding ways to help citizens of Cow Springs in need?”
“Well I think I just noticed something was wrong and figured I could help.”
“How is it that no one in Cow Springs seemed to know you before yesterday, and instantly you’ve become so popular?”
“I guess it was always in me, I just never knew it” Arnold says with a newfound inner sense of confidence.
“How did you convince that man to not commit suicide?” a different reporter asks.
“Well, I sort of just told him about all of the things I find joyful in life, in hopes that he would understand that there are reasons to stay alive. I guess he hadn’t considered all of the beautiful aspects of living.”
“Wow, what a motivational person. Thank you very much, Mr. Keli’i.” The reporter turns back towards his accompanying camera man. “Well, you’ve heard it here first, folks, Arnold Keli’i, the man who knocked out a thief just yesterday has today persuaded a man to not jump out of a third-story window. Here with Channel 1, I’m Fox Trotter.”
After concluding their stories, the reporters scurry away into their separate vans and drive off, leaving Arnold and Yarnold alone on the street. “You see, Yarnold?” Arnold took Yarnold off of his shoulders and cradled him in his arms. “I’m not a loser, everybody loves me! I’m a regular ol’ Bruce Banner! I think I need a superhero name now, right? How about Arnold-Dragon-Death-Slayer? Yeah, that’ll work for now. Or maybe Justice Man. Tough decision! I’ll think about it.” Arnold puts Yarnold over his other shoulder goes home feeling better than ever.
Arnold awakens on Thursday morning feeling like a straight up gangster, as has become the norm for this week. He walks down the street to work with a new strut in his step: chin up, shoulders straight, hair heavily greased, cleanly shaven, no more thick glasses, now contacts. The only difference between today and the rest of the week is that the Mr. Softee truck stops on Swine Street on Thursday mornings, and despite everything, Arnold will never break his loyalty to ice cream in the morning (and, you know, in the afternoon and evening, too).
To Arnold’s detriment, though, because he left so late this morning, he approaches the truck just as it is leaving the block. Worried, Arnold puts his head down and sprints full speed after it (imagine a normal person’s fast walk), an action he definitely only undertakes in under the most dire of circumstances. Thudding the ground with thumps and thwacks, he speeds his way to Swine Street, sweating. He is making headway on the truck until, seemingly out of nowhere, he spots a little girl running playfully in front of her mother, about to cross the street directly in his path. Without being able to stop, Arnold is forced to shove the little girl out of his way, knocking her to the pavement, and then continues to run until he finally catches the ice cream man. Just as soon as he is able to hail the truck driver and order a cone of chocolate ice cream with chocolate sprinkles and fudge, though, he is once again swarmed by a crowd of people, most of whom are reporters.
Arnold becomes worried that he injured that little girl he pushed, and that the reporters are here to harass him for it.
“Arnold Keli’i, you just saved a little girl’s life by pushing her out of the way of an oncoming vehicle, what do you have to say to the viewers at home who admire you so dearly?” one reporter asks.
Arnold is pleasantly surprised, yet not all too shocked by the fact that he has once again saved the day.
“Well, Jim, I’d just like to say to all of those average people at home watching their televisions, that I’m doing this for you all.” Arnold looks straight into one of the cameras. “You see, I’m a hero, and a hero’s job is to protect ordinary citizens. So watch out bad guys, Arnold the Bringer of Justice has come!”
“Arnold!” another reporter shouted. “Or, do you prefer Bringer of Justice now?”
“Ha ha, funny you should ask. Bringer of Justice. Call me that. Arnold is my old name.”
“Well, Bringer of Justice,” the same reporter followed up, “most citizens of Cow Springs now consider you to be an icon and role model. Do you believe that these are accurate claims?”
“Good question, Rhonda. You look very nice today.”
Rhonda the reporter blushed.
“You see, not only do I believe that I should be considered a legend, but we must understand that it is necessary for me to be recognized in this way, because of how much I’ve done for this town. In fact, I’d like to announce now that I will be running for a position in congress representing our district next year. Keli’i 2013!”
“So Arnold, what is your positio-”
“I’m sorry, guys, but I have important, heroic matters to attend to. Please excuse me.” But just as Arnold makes his way out of the bubble of reporters, a Rolls Royce pulls up along the curb beside him. Arnold recognizes the woman who gets out.
“Greetings, sir, I’m Mayor Eve East.”
“Mayor! So nice to see you.”
“Likewise, Mr. Keli’i, it’s a pleasure. I’m just wondering, now that you’re such a prominent figure in town, how would you like to speak at the Cow Springs Government Employees Dinner on Saturday night?”
“Oh well, how could I say no to that?” Arnold and the mayor share a diplomatic chuckle.
“Great. The meeting is from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m., I’ll see you there Mr. Keli’i.”
“I’ll mark it on my calendar!” Arnold says as the mayor gets into the back seat of the Rolls Royce again and is driven away.
And so Arnold did mark the date on his calendar, making room for it by crossing off his reminder to attend Hubert’s movie screening that very night.
Even with only a day of time to prepare, and no prior experience speaking publicly, Arnold is confident standing behind the curtain on stage at the Government Employee’s Dinner that he has a killer speech lined up. Eventually he is called up onto stage, accompanied by a lengthy ovation from the crowd.
“Thank you, thank you so much,” Arnold says as if he didn’t expect such high praise, “this is truly an honor for me. Well, to be honest, folks,” he says dishonestly, “it hasn’t been easy becoming a superhero for all of you. It has required lots of hard work, effort, perseverance, and a willingness to put others above oneself. What really drives me is–”
Arnold is interrupted by the double doors in the back of the room blasting open.
The entire crowd looks behind to see where the loud noise came from. They see a man slowly walking through the doors. He is draped in purple, blue and gold, with a tall hat, a long robe and high black boots. The man lifts his hat from covering his eyes — it’s Hubert.
“My screening just ended a few minutes ago,” Hubert announced across the length of the ballroom, “didn’t see you there, Arnold. I seem to remember you promising that you were going to show up. Or am I wrong?”
Arnold panics. “I’m sorry ladies and gentlemen, I don’t know who this man is. He’s obviously crazy, can we get security to escort him outside?” At this point no one besides Arnold and Hubert have any idea of what is going on.
“Au contraire. I believe it is the man you people see on stage before you that is the confused one. This man has deceived you. He is not really a hero, he has become one by coincidence, mere happenstance, not by any of his own abilities or merits. After all, what kind of hero would ditch his best friend’s screening of ‘3 Men and a Baby’?”
The crowd gasps.
“Security?!” Arnold calls out desperately.
“No security can help you now, Arnold Keli’i. Or should I say, Miranda Gretchen Keli’i?”
The crowd gasps again. Hubert continues to approach the stage. Arnold tries to think of ways to remedy the situation.
“People, people, please! Just because my name isn’t Arnold doesn’t mean that I’m not still your hero! My parents just don’t know how gender in English names works!”
“Actually, Miranda, you are not the hero of this town. Do you know why? Because I am! I am the hero, because I will put you down!” Approaching the middle of the room, Hubert pulls his favorite Harry Potter Play Set plastic wand out of the inside pocket of his wizard robe. The crowd is silent with confusion.
Arnold’s face turns grim. “Very well, young grasshopper. If you want to play, we shall play.” Arnold immediately retrieves his own plastic wand, which he always holds in his secret pants compartment in case of any situation which requires emergency usage of spells.
With his wand in his left hand pointed upwards, Hubert draws a circle three times over in the air, points it directly at Arnold and loudly utters his first attack: “Shalackara!”
Immediately Arnold’s knees feel weak under him. He almost falls, but picks himself up using his podium. He glares at Hubert, makes an “X” motion in the air with his own wand, points it at Hubert and responds with a “Siderina Rah-Portina!”
The immense imaginary force of Arnold’s attack startles Hubert, hurling him backwards as he falls back onto a dinner table. Hubert picks himself up, and the duel continues. He and Arnold trade rapid blows as the crowd of government employees surrounding them sits quietly, in awe of the utter idiocy of the events transpiring in front of them.
Hubert makes his way closer and closer to the stage, trying as hard as possible to block Arnold’s long range spells. He eventually comes within five yards of the stage’s edge, and in response, Arnold jumps down onto the floor of the ballroom, all the while casting spells to try to weaken Hubert and protect himself. Government employees begin to file out of the room, repulsed.
Hubert and Arnold get ever closer.
“Transito Transfixcio!” Hubert proclaims.
“Quertis Foherrimus!” Arnold announces in response.
The attacks become ever more dangerous, with Hubert and Arnold increasingly weakened by the constant force of each other’s spell casting.
“Carto Delpicaro!” Arnold attacks.
“Raish-Ar Ghood!” Hubert shields.
As the two men draw within arm’s length of each other, they start sword-fighting with their wands. After the poking of the pointy wands against each man’s flesh becomes too unbearable, the duel transforms into an all out cat fight, with both Arnold and Hubert aggressively slapping one another while at the same time moving their faces outwards from their opponent’s slaps. The petty slapping battle continues, slowing down gradually until both men are too tired to continue. The duel has come to an end, with no clear winner.
Arnold sits down, exhausted. Hubert follows. By now they are the only two people remaining in the ballroom. A long pause ensues as the men try to catch their breath and heal their wounds with spells.
“I’m sorry, Hubert.”
“I know you are, Arnold.”
“I promise not to be such a bad friend ever again.”
“I forgive you.”
“Hey Arnie, want to get some ice cream?”
“You know me so well.”
Nathaniel Nelson, Age 17, Grade 12,Bard High School Early College, Gold Key